http://www.independentweekly.com.au/new ... torypage=0
Story behind the new stadium pledge
HENDRIK GOUT AND DAVID CLAY
12 Feb, 2010 04:00 AM
The call came by text, phone and email: an invitation to reporters for a big announcement by the Premier and Treasurer at Adelaide Oval. It was early morning on December 2, and by the time the television news services began on Channel 10 at five o’clock that evening, Adelaide sports fans were already doing the Mexican wave.
The announcement for the total revamp of Adelaide Oval was made with the apparent approval of all three sporting bodies: the SA Cricket Association, the SA and Australian football leagues, who on this day pretended to forget their long-running internecine feuds. This multi-million-dollar upgrade would transform the oval from a quaint, cosy, predominantly cricket-only ground into a sporting Megaplex extravaganza. A 50,000-seat home for AFL, SANFL, cricket and integrated into Australia’s bid for the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The news was greeted with acclaim. AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou was ecstatic. “A refurbished Adelaide Oval would be a fantastic result for fans of our game in South Australia,” he said.
Business SA chief executive Peter Vaughan was equally effusive. “Having AFL and cricket played in a world-class stadium in the heart of the city will bring much-needed vibrancy to the Adelaide CBD,” was the business lobby’s verdict. SACA president Ian McLachlan claimed SACA had the support of its members to radically change the historic home of cricket to accommodate the development.
Even the SANFL reconciled a bitter 35-year split with SACA to come to the table and pledge its support. SANFL executive commissioner Leigh Whicker said the Government had given a vital endorsement to the state’s two leading sports. Treasurer Kevin Foley promised to hand the project with 450 million taxpayer dollars. “We can now give our sports fans what they want – first-class cricket and football at a much-loved ground with 21st-century patron facilities,” he beamed.
So all the sporting bodies are in apparent agreement, the Government has offered its funding and support, and South Australians get a new multi-purpose sporting arena in the heart of the city. Sounds like a win-win situation. But is it?
Beneath the wicket and behind the sight screen the news is not all good. The new complex will irreversibly alter the world-famous oval, expunging its existing character for a soulless megalith. The Liberals were unsurprisingly the first to throw a bucket of icy cold disagreement. Opposition Leader Isobel Redmond opened the batting. “Their stadium doesn’t have a roof, doesn’t have car parking, doesn’t have a whole lot of problems that need to be solved and doesn’t do something exciting for the city. What it does potentially is destroy the iconic Adelaide Oval that we have always said should stay,” she said.
Indeed, the Liberal Party whipped itself into a frenzy of opposition. “Plans to turn the iconic oval into a 50,000-seat stadium will require the existing oval footprint to be expanded by as much as 50 metres into the parklands resulting in the destruction of dozens of significant trees. The redevelopment will also force the relocation of the famous Victor Richardson gates.” The Opposition claimed that the SANFL preferred a new stadium in the city and had told the Government exactly that. SACA and SANFL had been “bullied into supporting the plan”, Ms Redmond said.
Former Labor Senator Chris Schacht also smashed one to the boundary. “The only way we are going to be able to afford a 21st-century stadium is to have all of them (the codes) sharing one decent stadium with a roof that seats around 50 to 55-thousand in comfort,” he said, but the Adelaide Oval upgrade has no such plan.
Indeed, grumbling and dissent can be found from many parties, and not all of them political. The SANFL and SACA have had what could best be described as a strained relationship, a euphemism for the two groups not being on civil speaking terms since the SANFL, tiring of what it saw as SACA’s autocratic leadership of the Oval, broke away from its traditional home. The state football administrator opened its own oval, Football Park, in 1974. So with this background of distrust, if not downright animosity, how have the two sides been so quick to forgive and forget? And why have the SANFL and AFL agreed to move their home ground to a proposed site with a smaller capacity? The seating volume at the revamped Adelaide Oval will be more than 1500 less than its current home at West Lakes.
Perhaps SACA and the SANFL’s willingness to bury the hatchet came from the traditional carrot and stick arrangement proffered by the State Government. The carrot was a big one – several hundred million in development funds. Whicker thought it was “unprecedented of any state government in Australia to commit upfront $450 million”. SACA’s McLachlan was more succinct but equally incredulous, labelling the offer “staggering”.
The stick was equally definite, with Rann giving this warning: “We are prepared to make this significant investment in the state’s best interests, but if either of the parties walk away from the deal, this money is off the table for good.” Perhaps it was a broadside ultimatum to forgive and forget by a mediating Government. So, peace in our time?
Four days after the Labor’s official announcement, on December 6, 2009, the SANFL made a list of demands. They ranged from compensation for moving football from AAMI Stadium to total control of the stadium during footy season, and guarantees that income per annum would match their current revenue. Now all this sounds a pretty reasonable pitch, but why would a sporting league that according to Mr Rann’s advisor, Jill Bottrall, “came to us and said that they wanted to do this” then issue a list of demands to ensure its interests were protected? Was this what the SANFL really wanted?
Sources indicate perhaps not. The SANFL had actually tabled its own proposal for an all-new, enclosed stadium close to the city. Sound familiar? Labor certainly thought so. When the proposal was put forward by Whicker and SANFL president Rod Payze last October, a furious Premier dismissed it, feeling that it was all but identical to the Liberal’s own plan for an inner-city stadium.
In April last year, then Liberal Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith had unveiled his Grand Vision: a new, covered stadium, entertainment centre, convention space and casino in the railyards on North Terrace City West smack on top of the site of Labor’s proposed new hospital, which Hamilton-Smith sent to the morgue.
The new Liberal leader, Ms Redmond, delivered a modified version of a similar proposal in November, and since then the fight for the voters’ hearts and whines has been played out in extra time.
Whicker would not be drawn to comment when later asked about this meeting with Rann, but neither did he deny the gist of the conversation. Mr Rann felt there were too many synergies between the SANFL’s plan and the Liberal proposal for it to be considered by Labor. Perhaps that’s why the AFL felt the need to “remind” the SANFL on its position, with a memo distributed before the December 2 announcement. “SANFL position as follows”, it read, “upbeat and pleased”.
With a government that puts a price on everything, including a secret price on Lance Armstrong’s own sporting and political visit, voters are now asking how much tradition is worth. On March 20, the refereeing voters will make their call on the parklands stadium. If Liberal pulls off the seemingly impossible and wins, Adelaide will get a new, enclosed 50-55,000 seat stadium in the north-west corner of the city. If Labor wins, Adelaide Oval will be demolished and a new stadium rise, phoenix-like, above the cri